What Goes on Inside and Artist's Head?
There’s the question, and there are probably as many answers as there are works of art since every creation is a completely unique process. Even when you are working on a series with a theme that links all the pieces together, you are working through a progression that evolves as you work.
Coming into Being, one of my Out of the Darkness series, prompted a reader of my last article, Art as a Revelatory Tool, (https://www.marylynnestadler.com/post/art-as-a-revelatory-tool) to ask what had been going through my mind when I made that particular piece, and commented that she would find an explanation interesting.
The best I can do is to put the piece in the context of the work I was making at the time. Interpreting it is an altogether other matter, and really only possible with hindsight.
First, a bit of background. By the time I was approaching the end of my Fellowship in Stone Lithography, during which time I was using a number of different lithography stones I realised that there was one stone that I particularly liked working with. I guess you could compare the experience to that of finding a particular pebble on a beach that you just want to keep and hold for some indefinable reason, perhaps because you like the shape and feel of it. (Read my blog, Drawn on Stone, https://www.marylynnestadler.com/post/drawn-on-stone, for a detailed description of the stone lithography process)
This particular lithography stone was more or less square, but it had a broken-off corner, an interestingly chipped edge and a couple of intriguing little ‘islets’ that seemed to be clinging onto the periphery as if by magic. It also featured a couple of very fine hairline cracks that ran up it like a pair of converging paths.
I had used it to create a series of images that all hung together by virtue of their shared elements, layered on in different combinations, https://www.marylynnestadler.com/stone-lithographs, but the more I worked with it the more I felt that what I wanted to do above all was to make work in which the main feature was the stone itself.
I have always like Mark Rothko’s later works and I will not deny that his work was a strong influence when it came to thinking about how to honour my stone with an aura.
The lithography process is very much about working in layers, so I began to prepare several large sheets of Fabriano paper by laying down a very pale yellow background that I could then build on. This I had to do on the offset press*, which had rollers that were large enough to cover most of the width of the paper.
The next step in the process was to impress the image of the stone onto the pale ground, and I chose to use a dark ink to do this, but also picked out the most recent etched image in a paler ink. After that it was a question of using oil paint and elbow grease to create an image in which the stone was suspended in a dark universe but emanated an aura of light.
All well and good, but there was a snag. I was reaching the end of my Fellowship. This meant that I would no longer have access to the studio that I had been working in - the studio where the stone was, (the stones are expensive and the property of the studio), and I had only managed to actually print the image of the stone onto three of the large prepared sheets.
This is where the sense of bereavement that I mentioned in the previous blog comes in. I felt lost. I’d had a plan, an intention, a goal. I’d had my talisman too, that stone, and now it was gone and my plan hung in suspense. My saving grace was the fact that I had an exhibition to create work for, so there was no time to sit around moping. I had no option but to get creative.
In a way I suppose Coming Into Being represents that moment of suspense in the process of moving from the intention to finding other ways of moving forward. The dark, surrounding universe is there; the golden space is there, shimmering and waiting for the image of the stone …when will it arrive? Where do we go from here?
There’s another in the series, Living Breathing Rock, which has something of the same feel to it, except that this time the suspense of Coming Into Being is reversed. The stone has appeared, but now it is the blank space. That was quite possibly the next one that I created when I realised that I could make a template of the stone and trace around it. The realisation that I could do this led me on to a new stage in the process and helped me to move forward.
I made a few more using that cardboard template, but there was something missing - it just wasn’t the stone, I couldn’t really capture all the nuances of the original edges and using it simply wasn’t as inspiring as working with the real thing, so my enthusiasm for continuing with that particular series petered out.
The strangest thing of all is the effect that thinking about that stone to write this has had on me. I have one print and only one print made with black ink that someone would have to pay me a small fortune to part with. The ink has so delicately picked up the stone’s edge, and the two tracks follow the course of those hairline cracks that I mentioned. It is a portrait of the stone. A family photo, in a way.
* Offset lithography differs from stone lithography in that the image is etched onto a metal sheet. When the sheet has been inked up it is placed on the press so that a large roller can be passed over it to pick up the inked image. Now a sheet of paper is placed on the press, and the inked up roller passed over it, transferring the image onto the paper. The process has two big advantages over stone lithography: on the one hand it is possible to create much larger images on thin metal sheets, and on the other hand, because stone lithography is a direct transfer process all images print off in reverse. This is not the case with offset lithography, where the intermediate step of picking up the image onto a roller first means that it ends up as it was first designed.